On Wednesday I gave my ninth and tenth grade students a history mid-term---an hour and a half long test that spanned centuries and continents. As I read over the questions I'd written on the board (my school cannot afford photo-copies), and listened to the choir of pencils scratching, I marveled that these teenagers were capable of explaining the crippling effects of colonialism and analyzing the convergence of geography and history.
Later that evening I found out that Howard Zinn, author of "The People's History of the United States" had died. His brilliant history book is one of the reasons my students are such critical thinkers (I wish I could take the bulk of the credit, but really, I am a conduit). His approach to history reminds me of this African proverb: "Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter."
Zinn re-wrote our history from the point of view of the lions, the people who were often (brutally) mistreated by conquerors, masters, and capitalists, not to glorify or simplify or patronize them, but to humanize them. He reveals the humanity of the conquered, the enslaved, and the workers, in order to reveal the humanity of us all. He uncovers the darkest moments of our history so that we might also see the light. When my students ask why history is so depressing, I remind them of Zinn: "I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past's fugitive moments of compassion rather than in its solid centuries of warfare."
Thank you, Howard Zinn, for making my classroom come to life with truth and compassion.
(For a lovely tribute by the editor of The Progressive), click here: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/01/29-6